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Friends, Foes Salute a 'Truly Great' Leader

Politicians from both parties remember Reagan's 'indomitable optimism' and praise his patriotism and communication skills.

June 06, 2004|James Gerstenzang and Judy Pasternak | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — President Bush said that former President Reagan's death Saturday left behind "a nation he restored and a world he helped save," as political allies and adversaries of the 40th president across the globe mourned his death.

Those who preceded or followed him to the Oval Office as well as politicians who have played lesser roles praised Reagan not only for having set the stage for the downfall of communism but for his personable conduct in an often disagreeable world.

"Hillary and I will always remember President Ronald Reagan for the way he personified the indomitable optimism of the American people, and for keeping America at the forefront of the fight for freedom for people everywhere," former President Clinton said in a written statement.

Former President Gerald R. Ford saluted Reagan as "an excellent leader of our nation during challenging times at home and abroad."

Former President George H. W. Bush, who served for eight years as Reagan's vice president, said Reagan's "unfailing kindness and his wonderful sense of humor lifted the lives of all who knew him.

"President Reagan could differ with an opponent or a foreign leader, but did it in such a way that bitterness was avoided. He was never mean-spirited."

As president, Reagan often went out of his way to establish a degree of humanity on a personal level, even going so far as to try to hold a door once for a Secret Service agent who was trailing him. It was that trait, writ large, that was woven throughout the remembrances offered Saturday.

Republicans -- from junior members of the House to senior members of the leadership -- offered glowing recollections of the former president, but his impact on the political landscape was perhaps best reflected in the praise that Democrats offered.

"Ronald Reagan's love of country was infectious," said Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

"Even when he was breaking Democrats' hearts, he did so with a smile and in the spirit of honest and open debate.

"The differences were real," Kerry said, "but because of the way President Reagan led, he taught us that there is a big difference between strong beliefs and bitter partisanship."

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) called Reagan "an icon" and said his leadership would "inspire Americans for generations to come."

Bush was told of Reagan's death late Saturday by White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.

The president was in Paris on a trip built largely around commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the D-day invasion that began the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany.

Card woke the president shortly after he had gone to sleep, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. The spokesman said Bush responded: "It's a sad day for America."

About two hours later, the president, in blue suit, blue shirt and maroon tie, went before cameras brought to the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Paris, where he was staying.

"Ronald Reagan won America's respect with his greatness, and won its love with his goodness. He had the confidence that comes with conviction, the strength that comes with character, the grace that comes with humility, and the humor that comes with wisdom," Bush said, reading from a prepared statement. "He leaves behind a nation he restored and a world he helped save.

"During the years of President Reagan, America laid to rest an era of division and self-doubt. And because of his leadership, the world laid to rest an era of fear and tyranny," Bush said, adding: "He always told us that for America, the best was yet to come. We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that this is true for him too. His work is done and now a shining city awaits him. May God bless Ronald Reagan."

The president ordered that U.S. flags on federal buildings be flown at half-staff for 30 days. Shortly after Reagan's death was announced, the flag above the White House was lowered, and the city began preparations for a presidential funeral.

The White House said plans for Reagan's funeral would be announced by the former president's family, but Reagan's body was expected to be flown to Washington to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, then taken to the National Cathedral for a funeral service before being returned to California for burial on the grounds of his presidential library near Simi Valley.

Bush was not expected to change his travel plans. After the ceremonies today in Normandy, he was expected to fly to Georgia, where on Tuesday he is to host for an annual international economic summit conference. It was expected that many of the leaders scheduled to attend the summit would want to attend Reagan's funeral.

Because of the hour of his death, there was little initial reaction abroad.

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